79. La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina (Francesca Caccini)

  • Commedia in musica: Prologue and 4 scenes
  • Composer: Francesca Caccini
  • Libretto: Ferdinando Saracinelli, based on Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso
  • First performed: Villa di Poggio Imperiale, Florence, 3 February 1625

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This morning, we talked about the first opera written by a non-white / non-European: Carlos Gomes‘ Il Guarany.

Here’s the first opera composed by a woman, and (possibly) the first opera to be performed outside Italy.

CacciniCaccini, nicknamed “La Cecchina” (“Songbird”), came from a musical family; a virtuosa singer, she appeared in her father Giulio Caccini and Jacopo Peri‘s Euridice (1600), the earliest surviving opera.

Caccini, the highest paid musician in the Medici court in the 1620s, was a talented woman.  She played the guitar, lute, harp, theorbo, and keyboard; taught singing, instrumental performance, and composition; wrote poetry in Italian and Latin; and was a friend of scientists and thinkers like Galileo.

(For more information, see here, here, and here.)

Ruggiero is her only surviving opera.  Commissioned by Maria Magdalena of Austria, Florence’s Regent Archduchess, it’s very much from the time when opera was in its infancy: a sung drama served up as a courtly entertainment, with plenty of spectacle to amuse royalty.

The wicked enchantress Alcina has enthralled the knight Ruggiero, so the good sorceress Melissa rescues him.

The enchantresses ride on dolphins, boats of whalebone that turn into winged sea monsters, and chariots pulled by centaurs.  There are sirens, enchanted plants, choruses of monsters (singing very unmonsterishly), and a ballet on horseback.

The style is rather like Monteverdi‘s, whose Orfeo (1607) appeared less than 20 years earlier.  It’s largely arioso, with the occasional trio.  There’s some lovely vocal writing, such as the trio of damsels or the siren’s song, but it’s emotionally low key, and lacks drama and variety.

The opera was composed for the visit of Polish prince Wladislas Sigismund to Florence at Carnival time, and celebrates his victory over the Turks.  It was revived in 1628.


Dorota Lachowicz (Melissa),  Leszek Swidzinski (Ruggiero), and Agnieszka Kurowska (Alcina), with the Warsaw Chamber Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by Wladyslaw Klosiewicz.  Warsaw, 1996.




At sea

  • Neptune
  • River Vistula
  • Chorus of Water Deities
  • Neptune, Chorus of Water Deities


At Sea

  • Sinfonia
  • Melissa, on a Dolphin, approaches the island of Alcina


On Alcina’s island

  • Alcina & Ruggiero, with Chorus of 6 Damsels
  • Damsels, Ruggiero
  • A Shepherd & Ruggiero
  • A Siren & Ruggiero
  • Melissa & Ruggiero
  • Enchanted Plants, Ruggiero & Melissa
  • [Alcina returns] The Chorus of Damsels & Alcina
  • Oreste (Messenger), Alcina & Damsels
  • Alcina, Damsels & Ruggiero
  • Ruggiero & Melissa


On Alcina’s island

  • Alcina, Chorus of Monsters
  • Astolfo, Melissa, & Alcina


On Alcina’s island

  • Melissa
  • A formerly-Enchanted Lady, Melissa
  • Chorus of newly-liberated Knights
  • Tutti

28 thoughts on “79. La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina (Francesca Caccini)

  1. I knew you would do this given my recent spiel about women in opera. Going back to La source! 🙂 And La nonne sanglante! I’ve heard both, (I actually own a copy of the CPO release of NS), expect three and a half acts of boredom, but the ballet and act five are rather interest, oddly enough. I spent $30 on the recording because I liked act five so much! That is just my opinion however. You know French music better than me so you might actually find that the opera that sank a thousand careers is actually a hidden masterpiece! Oh wait, you already reviewed it in your massive article on Gounod! Silly me I just remembered! Also, Lakme any time soon?


    1. No, the Caccini was a random choice! It just worked out that way: first non-white, first woman. (I’ve already written about gay composers with Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, and Lully.) Diversity!

      I see you’ve just done la Nonne too! Tribut de Zamora comes out next month.


      1. I’m really not a big Gounod fan. In spite of the three or four of his operas I’ve reviewed including Nonne. I heard La Reine de Sabe once, apart from a few moments I really wasn’t impressed. He also set both Faust and Romeo and Juliet to music, neither story I like set by any composer. I’ve read your tome on Gounod as well. I’d like to know what you think of Nonne now, if it’s changed or not.

        Your reference has put me into a mood for Tchaikovsky. I was working on Oprichnik but stopped in act 2. Maybe I will go back to it.


      2. No, I agree with me! I’m not really a Gounod fan, but he was an important French composer. There are often beautiful pieces, but the fine individual numbers often fail to add up to a good opera.

        Still, looking forward to Zamora!

        And Faust was the first opera I saw live, and is still great.

        I really want to do Paliashvili’s Abesalom da Eteri – but I don’t speak Georgian.


      3. I’ve actually heard Abesalom da Eteri about two years ago. Much of it consists of Georgian dance numbers. The plot is oddly simple. Eteri meets Abesalom in the woods but one of his courtiers named Murman also meets her and falls in love with her. She marries Abesalom, but one of her wedding presents is a poisonous necklace (weird I know). She becomes deathly ill and Murman offers to take her to his castle for treatment. She improves but separated from Abesalom he becomes weakened by distress and dies in her arms when he makes the trek to see her and then she stabs herself with the knife he gave her in act one as a symbol of his love.

        I do operas in languages I don’t know all the time! Granted they sometimes end up terrible but I don’t think anyone would fault you for not knowing Georgian! Maybe I should do it first since I’ve seen it already. It was during my “Operas of the Caucasus” phase when I watched five Armenian operas. It was just before I started the POW!


      4. Go for it! I’ve heard it a couple of times, and it’s a lovely score. Feel I’m flying a bit blind, though, armed only with a synopsis!


      1. I liked your review, unfortunately I’ve only ever heard the overture and the finale with its explosion (both of which me like) but I don’t know the opera that well, although I’ve read up on it a lot, so I’ll refrain from judgement until such time as I’ve heard it from beginning to end. Which will probably mean in about 48 hours. 🙂 I don’t know if I’ll review it at some point or just watch it for pleasure.


  2. I kind of agree with you on Ruggiero getting liberated from the island of Alcina (Handel’s opera bores me too, more than this in fact) this isn’t a fav of mine. I heard it while I was drafting the end of a thesis chapter this evening. I think it’s the style.

    Sorry to hear that la Nonne has been cancelled. I was looking forward to your review of Gounod’s medieval Halloween surprise! Maybe some Chabrier might be in order? I’m surprised you’ve never bothered with Le roi malgre lui!

    In the mean time I don’t know what to do, work on Tchaikovsky’s Oprichnik, Anoush, or maybe that Dargomyzhsky I suggested. I have thirty operas lined up in draft, but I’m not in the mood. I may need an Errol Flynn movie to pick me up out of this rut of murdered nuns and Georgian liebestods.


    1. Well, I prefer Gluck and Rossini’s treatments of Armida! (I haven’t heard Dvorak’s, yet.)

      I find pre-Gluckian opera a bit dull, truth to tell. There are some wonderful things in Rameau, though.

      Chabrier hasn’t come up – yet…

      Watch Captain Blood!


  3. I’m reviewing the DG 1971 studio recording of Abesalom da Eteri (which one are you doing incidentally?) and after that I think I’m going to listen to a recording of Faust (one of the 3 hour ones) because try as I might, I’m repulsed by how saccharine it seems to me. At best I could place it in a “so bad its good” category because its amazing success (it was once the most performed opera on earth) is just so shocking to me. I have to admit that I so far agree with Forman on this one.


      1. I’m still not in love with Faust, but I wouldn’t say I hate it anymore. But I did decide to finally get a copy of it (after 19 years of collecting). The Te Kanawa/Araiza recording conducted by Sir Colin Davis.


      2. I ultimately decided upon Davis because it is totally complete (the spinning scene is dropped from the Cluytens, and it is 20 minutes shorter). I know, I usually worship at the temple of Gedda so it was hard.


      1. Yes, a gamma is a C. Although it is a little weird because gamma is the Greek letter corresponding to G in the Latin alphabet but it is third so alpha, beta, gamma, then delta.


  4. I really don’t like Placido Domingo, as a tenor. As a person and as a baritone he is fine (I have his Barber of Seville, a Christmas present from a step-uncle). There is something about the timbre of his voice or the way he enunciates that I find off-putting. I’d rather take Gedda, Araiza, Carreras, del Monaco, Florez, or Philippe Talbot.


      1. Certainly, I love Thill, Kraus, and Vanzo. Spyres is probably the finest tenor of our generation, certainly the one with the largest total range. I actually don’t know of Vidal (a whole in my education!). Have you heard of Bruno Ribeiro? I’m surprised you didn’t critique me on liking del Monaco, he is an acquired taste but his Otello was Otello. I don’t think Spyres could take that role though, he is more of a lirico, even a leggiero and Verdi’s Otello is solidly a dramatico, even heldentenor (what other non-countertenor male can sing high-G’s after all?)

        I did review Fedora and Siberia, I don’t own copies though, thank Amazon Music! I generally hate verismo. I find it barbarous usually which is why I don’t understand how Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur is considered verismo, it is blatantly copy-cat early-Massenet. I’m usually more into refined works like you which does makes my love-hate relationship with Faust rather odd. By the way, you’ve never commented on my Catalani reviews, what do you think?


      2. You’ve heard Vidal; he sang Cinq-Mars!

        Where do you hear much Massenet in Adriana Lecouvreur?

        I’ve never heard Catalani, so can’t comment!


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